Nicola Talbot and I ran a course for UK-TUG earlier in the year: see http://uk.tug.org/2010/07/30/training-day-a-success/ for the slides and so on. The course ran for one day, which was probably as about right. Some people wanted more time (we did have to move fast), but getting people together and having the teaching time is of course a challenge.
The approach we took was to built the material around writing a thesis (a pretty common requirement). So we made a few decisions
- Ideally, people should leave with a PC capable of running TeX
- We'd focus on some aspects, such as document structure, and not try to cover everything
- We'd only talk about PDF output, no DVI mode
The general scheme was to start with installation, then do document basics, then structure and finally some more advanced stuff. Setting up TeX is no too bad with TeX Live (we went with that as it's the same across platforms). The only issue there was the time it takes to install: for the next course I'm going to send out DVDs in advance with instructions, and give anyone who struggled some help on the day.
Again, we were aiming for cross-platform working so had decided to use TeXworks as our editor. The built-in PDF viewer and SyncTeX, plus the fact it basically looks the same on Windows, Mac and Linux made this a good choice for a mixed audience. It also kept the screen pretty clear so we could stick to typing in commands: I think not such a bad way to learn.
We did a mix of slides and examples. So the start was 'what is TeX and what is LaTeX?', where we kept the TeX part short and mainly focused on LaTeX. We then showed some basic ideas in beamer before moving on to some real examples. Again, I think for the next time I might have a bit more on how (La)TeX works, explaining about the 'source code and output' and 'command sequence' ideas. This is easy to miss out once you've got experience!
The way we did the bulk of the course was a few minutes at the front, with slides and examples, then a period when the students tried things out. Nicola did a hand-out with lots of exercises to try. We then went round the students and helped them out (there were about 20, which was manageable).
Some of the students came with very specific questions, so the last hour was a Q&A session where we tried to help with whatever was asked. We also mentioned various places for support, and gave what pointers we could to other resources. That included recommending a book: Kopka and Daly is the best single book in English, I think, so we said that one!
As I say, things seemed to work quite well that way. We're planning to present the same material again, learning from the things we didn't quite get right and hoping to help out another batch of students. So I think the approach was okay.